Through this three-part series, we’ve been highlighting the strong partnership and connection between Coburn Place Safe Haven and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. One of those connections is executive master’s alumna Julia Kathary, who serves as the executive director of Coburn Place.
Since she was a child, Kathary was involved in clubs and social services.
“I really enjoyed giving back and making the community better. My family struggled for a long time, which was hard,” she said.
Those struggles taught Kathary to be resilient and to “dig deep.”
“You can find ways to stability for yourselves and other people,” she said. “Our struggles taught me to keep trying to make the world a better place, which is what led me into the nonprofit sector.”
Kathary worked in a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter for 9.5 years in Evansville, Indiana before moving to Indianapolis in 2004. At that time, she was facing a crossroads of whether or not to stay in the nonprofit sector.
“I decided to stay in the sector, but wanted to work for organizations and missions that I felt passionate about,” she said. “I had noticed though, what difficult work it is to make a nonprofit sustainable over time.”
While working in a domestic violence shelter in Indianapolis, Kathary learned about the executive master’s program, where she could work full-time while attending online and in-person classes part-time.
“It just clicked in my soul; I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “I wanted to have that skillset and that education on how to build sustainability.”
She was able to work full time throughout the program and finish in 3.5 years.
Toward the end of the program, Kathary started her own consulting business and worked mostly with domestic violence or sexual assault organizations. She focused on community-wide planning and collaborative solutions for those tough issues.
“I wanted to bring people together in order for us to work collectively to implement their ideas,” she said. “The academic base from the then-Center on Philanthropy gave me the foundation to look at models that might work and bring people together to share those ideas.”
Kathary worked on capacity building and a range of issues, from deepening the impact of an organization’s mission, to addressing organizational sustainability, to program effectiveness and strategic planning.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do that without what I learned from the master’s program,” she said. “When the executive director position at Coburn Place came open in 2010, it was the merging of my passion, my experience, and my academic learning. Now, I’m using the full range of what I learned in school, including mission and organizational sustainability, budget and fiscal management, board development, and other resources in my work at Coburn Place.”
Even years later, Kathary still remembers influential professors.
“Dr. Nancy Robertson’s class on the history of philanthropy was really interesting,” she said. “I really enjoyed Dr. Les Lenkowsky’s classes. He challenged my thinking outside of my own world and broadened my perspective. I loved learning about civil society and how the whole volunteer sector in the U.S. is so vibrant. We have built into our societal design ways that we can help and give back to one another, while also being part of a strong economy.”
Her advice for current and potential philanthropic studies students? For current students, it’s gaining practical experience in the nonprofit sector.
“Figure out how your paycheck from a nonprofit comes to you. Selling a product for a corporate company is way different than selling a mission,” she said. “You’re developing a mission that matters and has impact, telling the story of that mission, and getting people to engage with their time, talent, and treasure. Do direct service and learn how the nonprofit sector impacts the community.”
For future students, she encourages them to learn about all different kinds of organizations within the nonprofit sector.
“One of the many things I loved about the program was how many diverse opportunities there are. You have foundations, direct service organizations, faith-based organizations, etc.,” she said. “There are opportunities in the nonprofit sector to utilize many different skill sets and turn it into something within civil society that gives back. So bring that skill set and then get innovative with it.
“The value of what you can do in the nonprofit sector is just as important to our economy as someone working in the corporate sector.”
Abby Rolland is the blog content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.